Born: Sunday, January 21st, 1872
Died: Monday, November 9th, 1953
Birthplace: Holyoke, Massachusetts
Career: City Attorney (1902-1908)
Prosecuting Attorney (1899-1901; 1910-1912)
President, Washington State Bar Association (1921)
Served: Wednesday, September 14th, 1921 to Monday, January 8th, 1923
Political Party: Republican
Appointing Governor: Hart (Republican)Chester Hovey, the son of George A. and Jennie (Dyer) Hovey, was born in Holyoke, Massachusetts. He graduated from public high school in Durand, Wisconsin, in 1888 and that same year moved to Ellensburg. Hovey worked odd jobs and in a grocery store, studying law at night with Judge Ralph Kauffman, longtime superior court judge of Kittitas County. At age twenty-one, the Washington bar admitted Hovey and he began practicing law in Ellensburg.
In 1899 Hovey won election as prosecuting attorney for Kittitas County, serving until 1901. He returned to that office from 1910 to 1912. In the intervening years he acted as Ellensburg City Attorney. Although a Republican by inclination, Hovey was not active in party affairs. But he was a leader in the local bar and achieved statewide recognition with his election as president of the Washington State Bar Association in 1921. He developed a reputation as an expert on water rights and irrigation law. His presidency of the state bar, expertise in irrigation law, party affiliation, and eastern Washington residency led Governor Louis Hart to appoint Hovey to the supreme court bench in 1921 to fill the vacancy created by Judge Wallace Mount’s death.
Otto Rupp, former president of the Washington State Bar Association, recalled one particular case handled by Hovey that displayed his courage and brought him to Governor Hart’s attention:
The federal government proposed to build in the Kittitas Valley a very large irrigation project, a project eagerly desired by the people of that county. A few land owners … affected by the construction … and Hovey thought … that such construction, due to the charges to be made for water, would not be of any advantage to them but would practically amount to the confiscation of their property. They asked Judge Hovey to represent them. He was reluctant to do so, as he knew that such action would be regarded by most of the residents of the county, his clients and friends with pronounced disfavor. Nevertheless, as he told me, he believed it was his duty to represent these land owners, and he did so, to his very considerable financial detriment. Time, however, has not only healing in its wings, but also sometimes brings compensation in addition to the inner satisfaction arising from a duty performed. It was the knowledge of this courageous action on Judge Hovey’s part which in large part led Governor Hart to tender Hovey an appointment to this Court.
Judge Hovey lost in his only attempt to hold his seat by election. In 1923 William Pemberton put together a coalition of Democrats, labor, and the Grange to retire Hovey from the bench. Rather than returning to Ellensburg, Hovey moved to Seattle where he set up practice and again became active in professional affairs, winning election as president of the Seattle Bar Association in 1929.
Judge Matthew Hill remembered Judge Hovey’s brief tenure on the bench with these words:
Judge Hovey ranks as one who clarified, not one who confused. With a brevity which was remarkable … he expressed himself in firm and unequivocal language. In him there was no flash of shallowness or resort to words or phrases to cover an uncertainty of mind. He was direct and forceful. Again and again, one marvels at his ability to go to the core of a complex and confusing problem and lay bare the decisive fact upon which the whole case turns. A little impatient at times with doctrinaire advocacy of extreme positions, his opinions indicate a firm belief in the right of a man to be let alone. But he knew too, that there can be no true liberty except as supported by law.
In those days, a by-law of the State Bar Association made it a duty of the president in his annual address to comment upon the important decisions of the Supreme Court rendered during the year. Two of the five decisions discussed by President Joseph McCarthy at the meeting in Tacoma in August 1922 had been written by Judge Hovey.
Judge Hovey married Grace J. Painter of Ellensburg in 1895 and the couple had two children, Joseph and Ann. The judge was a member of the Elks Club and was active in the Ellensburg Chamber of Commerce.
H. James Boswell, American Blue Book: Western Washington (1922), p. 41; memorial services, Washington Reports, vol. 46, 2d (1955), pp. xviii-xxv.
The preceding biography is from Charles Sheldon's The Washington High Bench: A Biographical History of the State Supreme Court, 1889-1991, © 1992 by the Board of Regents of Washington State University. Reprinted here with permission and licensed to the public under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License by The Temple of Justice Project.